The golden yellows of sunflowers, the crisp reds of peonies, none can be ignored by this little one. Coasting from one to the other as if on a breeze blowing just for it.
Bathing in orange powder at every stop. Occasionally a quick snooze under a stamen, but only for a moment. Then up and out! On to the whites of daisies and the oranges of dahlias. Disappearing into a distant meadow.
Broken Old Man
“My broken body throbs, but nothing will stop me from destroying you. You bastard. The pure evil within these walls that has haunted me for 30 years.”
A rack of stacked white cards, donning the names of its prisoners, crashes to the floor as cracks appear in the concrete around the box. “Fred.” “Harold.” “Travis.”
“They’re all dead! Every day for 30 years you fractured our bodies and cracked our souls into shards. Get out of my head! You killed them! And you’re trying to kill me!”
“IN. OUT. IN. OUT.”
“So many hopes of finally leaving this town, this awful place. This prison. You stole my dreams!”
“But you held me here. A constant symbol of my servitude. My pitiful purpose in this world. You stole my life! “
“IN. OUT. IN. OUT.”
The box starts to detach from the wall.
“I’m an old man now. Broken. Beaten. But you don’t feel anything do you? Unchanging all this time. You stare and you demand and you conquer.”
The box crashes to the floor.
“I’m ruined. And now, so are you.”
“Perhaps, but it is you who surrendered 10 hours a day to me. I may be just a box, but I know this: you wielded the white card. You listened for the CHK-CNK. You accepted your fate. You and your friends. Prisoners of nothing, but your own cowardice!”
A Plate of Thankful Memories
My family gathers. Generations of moms and daughters bustle in the kitchen, sharing recipes, cackling about the latest family drama.
Men and children sit by the fire. The game is on. Children play and dream of the mound of mashed potatoes soon to be theirs!
Not all family members are here. Some are too far away. Some have passed on. We laugh and guffaw at the happy memories with a sprinkling of sadness and loss. Always thankful for the memories we have.
Time to eat. Everyone rushes to the table, cackling moms bringing out the last of the dishes. The man of the house drills through the roasted beast. Tasty familiar accompaniments are shoveled on to plates. It's a symphony of clink and clank as the polished silverware forks the good China.
My plate is empty. No glutenous sustenance for me. No. There are only memories on my plate. One empty plate in front of one empty chair. Frequent glances to my plate by my beloved family sparking more stories, more laughs, more grief. They think of me. They remember me. They are sad, but thankful for the memories.
I Smoke too Much
People who smoke often proclaim, "I can stop any time I want!"
So, it's a choice?
Day in and day out, I sit and type and pound the desk, yelling at the screen. A sedentary life with aching legs, swollen feet and widening hips. My health worsening, but here I choose to sit, diligently all day, every day. Typing, pounding and yelling at the screen. Slowly killing myself, "I can stop any time I want!" my inner voice says. But here I sit.
Sitting is the new smoking.
Wise Old Trees
There's something to be said for sharing the space of a large old tree. Thinking about the things they've seen. The life that surrounds them, life that lives on them and inside them. Still, they stand, unwavering. Even Mother Nature can’t knock these trees down. They will fall when they are good and ready!
If these trees were to tell their stories, I'd think their voices would bellow loudly, and their speech would be slow and deliberate. Observers would be entrapped in awe of their majesty and would unwittingly cling to every detail.
I have met a few such trees...
The Tulip Poplars on George Washington's Mount Vernon estate. Gigantic, majestic, awesome trees that were saplings when the General roamed the grounds. Two hundred years of watching the General sow the seeds of freedom and independence.
The Japanese Cherry trees in the tidal basin in Washington, DC. Not quite as old as the General's Tulip Poplars, but just as reliable and alive and inspiring. They've seen a hundred or so years of power raging and changing hands, deals being made, laws of the land being forged.
The Live Oaks are the giants of the south with crooked entangled branches dripping with moss. Some as old as 500 years, so many human conflicts these trees have endured. They've seen enslavement, revolutions, independence, and civil war, but ultimately triumph and unity.
Oh, what stories they could tell!
During a hike through the forest, I came across a large old tree, I stopped and observed it. Its rough bark against my hand, the earth at its base under my feet, and its leaves in the breeze, all tickled my senses. I closed my eyes, and could feel its energy mingling with my energy. I could hear its resonance aligning to mine.
It wanted to tell me. It wanted me to know its stories. Not for vanity. Trees are not vain. No, it was a warning. Its stories were cautionary tales of injustice, oppression and betrayal. Tales of humans being human. Eventually all the stories appeared the same.
Human nature we call it. Human weakness, the tree calls it. The tree bellowed its message in my mind. “STOP! You humans are like the sun. Your stories may differ as centuries pass, but the premise is the same. You lie and cheat and bully. I’ve seen it all! Resilience, unity, and perseverance are the words you use to hide the inevitable truth. Familiar beginnings, familiar outcomes, just like the predictable sun, rising and setting each day. That is what I see when you stop and observe me.”
“No!” I responded. “Humans are inherently good! We cherish life! We nurture goodness and squelch the evil! How can you think of us as so nefarious?“
“Oh child. You are not nefarious. You have the angst of youth within you. You feel disconnected from the harmony of Mother Nature. The world is not yours to control. The world was here long before you came along. It is a cradle you should surrender to. Your dissension from your place in the natural world has made you at odds with it. This is where the evil seeps in. “
"Could that be true?" I thought to myself. The cracks and crevices torn open when we ripped ourselves from the clutches of our Mother - is that our Pandora’s box? Is that where the evil in our hearts comes from? It’s true, humans have long been out of harmony with the natural world, but our humanity is good and hopeful, right?
The profound message from the tree left me stunned. The truths we observe every day in our interactions with nature, and how we perceive and treat others, is testament that something is wrong. Maybe the tree was right. We tell ourselves that we are inherently good, and evil is bad, but at the same time, evil dictates our thoughts as we compete against nature, and against each other.
If the cracks and crevices that opened when we left the Mother were plugged with love to counter the evil, would we be more harmonious with nature? With each other? Or is it too late? Can the box truly never be completely closed?
I stepped back to the tree, closed my eyes, felt its energy once again. I conjured one final message in response to the tree’s declaration. Hope. Hope that we will one day return to the Mother and mend the brokenness, sew the torn fabric of our existence into a harmonious life returning to the clutches of our Mother.
“You tell good stories.” The tree whispered. “I hope for you too.”
I am Still Here
My gift doesn’t come in any bright colorful package. My gift isn’t purchased in any festive cheery little shop. No, no, my gift was given life 50 or so years ago, and has grown to a tremendous size. Ripped and seeded by others who were supposed to love and nurture. Its seeds sprouted and grew with every harsh word, every dispirited look in the mirror. Its festering blossoms opened and closed with each new inward lie, failure, and perceived shortcoming.
In my most impressionable years, this was my truth. I was rejected, then I became rejected.
Five decades of hiding behind this monster. Years of being entangled in its vines allowing it to dictate my words, my stories. Those should be mine! My dear words, my precious stories! How dare it take those from me! But I let it. I let it take all that is me and hide it behind a large sap-ridden branch, oozing with self-doubt.
I lift others up, spread cheer and joy outward, but that doesn’t come from a warm soft part of my soul. Oh no, it is the hope to my contempt, the comfort to my despair. The festering blooms eject the good so that the sticky bad is all that remains, tucked neatly in pockets of the monster to rot and mutate.
This monster lives in the depths, the dark places of my soul. It has morphed me into a unique soul who is still here. Still living. Still breathing. Still fighting.
This is my gift. I’m still here.
We had hope ... until we didn’t.
When my husband was diagnosed two years ago with End Stage Renal Failure, the weight of the news was almost too much to bear. We bumbled through the 7 stages, and didn't get past denial and anger for some time. Meanwhile, our lives were upended. We moved, he started treatment, and I became a caregiver. New memories made in our brand new house were shrouded in sickness and pain.
Being only 48, doctors enthusiastically advised us to pursue getting him on the transplant list, which we did. Overnight trips to this hospital and then to that hospital. Following their rules and instructions to the letter. Scared of the future, we would ask questions like, "how long will it take to get a kidney?" and "how long before the treatment no longer works?" Our minds knew the reality, and our questions zeroed in on the fact he had a small window for getting a transplant before losing even more of his independence. Please, please don't let it go that long.
After 6 months of waiting, one Saturday afternoon in June, we got "the call". We have a kidney! A living kidney (the best kind). Miraculously, we were at the end of a donor chain. A free kidney without the unsettling death of the donor. Tears of joy poured. We had been trudging through hell and were about to climb up out of the hole. I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it. There was going to be a finality to this. The pain and suffering was going to end - for both of us. The transplant surgery was scheduled for September. Wow.
The physical toll of the treatments on my husband was great. He was facing his own mortality, and every day he was reminded that he was at the mercy of the disease. Once we got the news, everything brightened. We started to enjoy life again knowing there was an end. We can endure it a little longer. It will end. We had a kidney ... until we didn't.
During the next 6 months, my husband's health degraded despite the good news. In July, he ended up having a series of amputations; first, toes, then, most of his foot, and finally his leg, and then later on two fingers. The doctors say this was unrelated to the kidney disease, but does it really matter? The fact remains, he was physically disappearing, and his transplant was in jeopardy.
By August, the emotional toll on me was harder to see than the physical manifestation of his illness on him. I had an "act now, cry later" approach to dealing with being a caregiver, and then after the amputations, I assumed the role of in-home nurse. My husband endured 3 amputation surgeries within a month. Well, one amputation, and 2 ablations, but who's counting. After the 3rd surgery, he wasn't even able to respond and interact. The pain and the medicine for that pain took all lucidity from him for several weeks. During this time, I was 100% engaged in his care. I took care of pills, redressing bandages, making appointments, and driving him to those appointments, hooked him up to the dialysis machine, and unhooked him 10 hours later - every day. I bathed him, fed him an, as tolerable as possible, renal diet, kept his living space clean and sterile. I took care of everything ... him. All this while trying to maintain my 9-5.
My own body felt the overwhelming pressure of keeping another human alive and safe from infection, in the form of neglect and stress. I had to reduce my hours at work, which meant less money coming in. My husband was already on disability and not working, so our family income was cut in half. The bills didn't change in accordance with income of course, so there was also that to deal with.
Healing began and the fog lifted from his mind as he was taken off pain medication. The dialysis endured, and now he's in a wheelchair. He regained some independence, but it will be a few months before he can be fitted for a prosthetic. Doctors try to empathetic. They know how hard it is, but they also see it every day, several times a day probably. Patients who are almost healed, get thrust back into the depths of illness. Hope lost, life diminished. He wouldn't be fully healed from his amputation to qualify for transplant.
We lost the kidney.
I've posted other parts of this story here on prose as well. This is one of 3 stories I've written about my experiences as a caregiver. My post, "I almost left...." is also part of this story.
Title - Still working on that one.
Genre: non-fiction - memoir
Age range - Adult readers
Word count - targeting 80,000 words. Manuscript is not yet complete.
Author name - Olivia Lee Hart
Why my project is a good fit - I am a debut author. This is a recount of 2 years of my life. I currently have written 3 short stories based on events that took place within these 2 years, and realized, this is my story. I am putting these stories together into a memoir.
The hook - The hook, is that it's all true. One unfathomable 2 years of truth. This will appeal to readers of books about being diagnosed with chronic illness, or books about caregiving for someone who's terminally ill.
Synopsis - My husband was diagnosed with a chronic illness, and was riddled with health problems - some related, some not - for 2 years until he received a kidney transplant. The story of my journey with him as his caregiver is entangled with the story of his coping with his disease and loss of mobility and independence.
Target audience - This story will appeal to adult non-fiction readers. It will sit nicely on the shelf next to "In Love", by Amy Bloom.
Your bio - I am a creative writer and digital photographer. I currently work as a creative web developer, designing user interfaces, writing/proofreading web and marketing content.
Platform - Currently, my writer's blog and social media platforms.
Education - Bachelor of Arts, English - Literature & Language
Experience - This would be my debut novel. I write regularly for work (web content writing) and on my blog. I have made a few submissions here and there to literary publications.
Personality / writing style - My writing style is conversational. I tend toward succinct and straight-forward language rather than lofty overly descriptive language.
Likes/hobbies - Photography, Blog writing, my "day job" is Web Developer
Hometown - I hail from Myrtle Beach, SC (born in central Ohio)
Age - 50
This time of year inevitably brings stories and poems from people in higher latitudes telling stories of summer giving way to change. This may come in the form of snowflakes for some, or crisp cold barren breezes for others.
For me, however, this time of year is not an end to summer, it's a gradual surrender of it. It's as though Mother Nature dipped her paintbrush in brown, then yellow, then red, then green. All summer long her brush strides across the canvas, smooth beautiful green. Then when the breezes cool, the green gradually eases into the red, then the yellow, then finally the brown.
At this latitude, summer doesn't end, it waxes for a little while giving way to cooler colorful days, then wanes back a few months later when Mother Nature's refills her brush.
I am thankful I live in this latitude.
I almost left...
The older we get, the more prevalent sickness and illness become in our lives, whether in ourselves, or in our loved ones. My family has been no exception.
Fathers, mothers, friends of the family, dogs, cats, etc., chronic illness abounds.
Given the illnesses, the heartbreak, and the loneliness that follows, I cannot say that I've ever really been a caregiver to any of my loved ones who died of chronic illness. The pets maybe, but their illnesses are short lived and end abruptly when we declare it's time. We don't let illness in our pets last years. Well I haven't, others might.
I digress. A couple of years ago, my husband and I were faced with a harsh reality. He was diagnosed. It doesn't matter what it was. The fact that we had a diagnosis meant hardships ahead (probably), impossible odds (maybe), perseverance (hopefully), but most certainly pain, physical for him and emotional for me.
Being thrust into a caregiver role to someone who is not most agreeable person when it comes to imposition, or discomfort, was damaging to my psyche. Expletive filled bellowing echoed through the house frequently.
After his diagnosis, we moved to a more "agreeable" state, one which had better hospitals, better treatments, blah blah blah. So picture me, a 40 something woman packing, moving, searching for a house, unpacking, then comes the cleaning, laundry, appointment taking, chauffeuring, pill dispensing, and all-around "go get it" girl for a grumpy terminally ill grouch of a man. All while working a 9-5. Impossible odds indeed.
The holidays came and went. I don't even remember Thanksgiving, seriously. Christmas was not joyful. We put out a tree, but only put 2 ornaments on it. Those were ornaments we purchased when we moved the prior December. That was it. No tinsel, no bulbs, no angel topper. If it wasn't already lit, I'm pretty sure there would have been no lights either. After the holidays, I went through what some would call an emotional breakdown. January marked 1 year. The absolute worst year of our lives. How could it get any worse?
I had thoughts of leaving, just leave it behind. Leave the sickness, leave the grumpy asshole upstairs to take care of himself. My husband was understandably frustrated, and angry and impatient, but my tanks were running on empty. I had nothing left to give. I started shifting my focus from his every need, to getting the hell out. I rented a storage unit and started discretely moving my treasures out of the house. I found a rental home, scheduled furniture delivery, the whole nine. I had to get out! There was no way we were meant to endure this. He was clearly going to die from this sooner rather than later, I may have a chance of not going down with him if I leave now.
It's surprising and amazing where our minds go when crushed by so much pressure and hopelessness.
It's equally as surprising and amazing how life sucks us back in. Let me rephrase that last statement. At the time it felt like that - like I was being sucked back in. The reality was though, that on the eve of my departure from all this pain, all this misery, I realized, relief from it was not on the other side. Relief from the misery would not be found in me leaving. I'd just be replacing misery with guilt and anger at myself. *Sigh* I can't leave him like this - alone, ill, disabled, helpless.
I stayed, and slowly, over the next few weeks, untangled the web I had weaved to get the hell out of there. Thoughts of leaving dissipated, even though the misery was still there. I was distant with my husband most times. He once hugged me and said "I miss this." I said back to him, "Right now I'm not your wife, I'm your nurse." That one cut deep, but it was the truth. I was an empty vessel whose sole purpose was to care for him. I was along for a terrible, horrific ride. One I didn't sign up for. Well, technically I did with all that "sickness and in health" nonsense. Sickness sure, but frustrated, unappreciative asshole? No. This is what he had become, at least that's how he looked from my perspective.
I almost left....
Rekindling an old Hobby
I've been out of the writing game for some time and have recently rekindle my passion for it.
I'm loving the writing prompts and challenges! Great way to tickle the imagination!
Here's a recent quick story I wrote to play with some text for my novel.
“Empty Nest” is a term used to describe a home, once full of love and family traditions, which now stands quiet and vacant. It’s a home whose children have grown and moved on to build their own nests leaving parents with decades of memories and a deep void in their lives. Sure, the optimists would say that it’s a new chapter for parents to start by reigniting the passions they pushed to the side while raising their family, but it is also a time of sadness, fear and worry. Have the children, now adults, learned everything they needed to be successful and happy in life? Time will tell and parents will worry. Bless them, they will worry, and their children will be all the better for it.
Empty nests come in a variety of flavors. Some are sweet with parents who are relieved to see their babies grow up and finally start their own lives. Others are salty with parents who cling to every moment in denial that this is the natural order of things. Some are bitter and sour. These are the homes that were never filled. The homes whose halls never echoed with the sounds of babies crying, or children laughing. Homes in which parents never saw their children born. Parents who tried and tried, but only succeeded in finding sadness and heartbreak. That emptiness is sour indeed.